Monthly Archives: February 2017

FGC #244 The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The greatest trick Miyamoto ever pulled was convincing the world Link didn’t exist.

Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Link of The Legend of Zelda, has claimed that Link is named for the fact that he is a “link” to the player. When you’re exploring the realm of Hyrule, you’re not doing it “with” Link, you are Link, and his every grunt and tumble is actually your own. Almost every Zelda game highlights this fact with a nearly entirely mute Link that is not so much a legendary hero, but just a dude in a tunic. He might have a sister, he might be a random farmhand, or he might even be a fairy boy, but Link is always intended to be the player from the moment you hit start. Your life is over, bird-flying kid, you’re mine now.

Except… that’s not very Nintendo.

There are a number of reasons Nintendo is friggen’ Nintendo, but one rationale that I’ve always believed is that, from the moment Jump Man became Mario, Nintendo just plain knows how to establish its characters. Mario doesn’t coincidentally wear the same gloves as Mickey Mouse. Maybe it’s the merchandizing, maybe it’s an overzealous fanbase, but, somehow, Nintendo seems to effortlessly create memorable characters. When even Samus Aran, a woman who barely spoke anything but narration for fifteen years, has a “character” to accidentally break during Another M, you know you’ve done something right (or, again, maybe it’s just a deranged fanbase).

“Blank slate in a green tunic” doesn’t exactly fit this pattern, though. Mario is silent save a few woo-hoos, but his personality is firmly established in his actions and acrobatics. “Cowardly” Luigi (flying brave Sir Link’s colors) is much in the same boat. Kirby is a damn pre-verbal pink ball, and I can tell you more about his personality than the headlining characters of La La Land (though, admittedly, I’m not sure about Kirby’s feelings on jazz). Yet Link is, time and time again, the most lauded Nintendo hero. He’s so… quiet? Well, he’s cool, at least. We know that much.

But why do we know that? Simple. It’s because of this hated creature…

HEY LISTEN!

Link might be a “link” to the player, but the real hero of Hyrule is whoever happens to be hanging out with Link on his quest. Without Navi, Tatl, or Fi, Link is… maybe brain damaged? Sheltered, at least. Extremely sheltered. This is the desert of the Gerudo. This is the Dungeon of Bad Vibes, you’re going to need a key or two. This is the field right outside your house. Have you never been here before? Should I stick a little note to your tunic to remind you which way is north? It’s up. Go up, Link. Oh Keese, why are you rolling everywhere?

… What I’m saying is that, without a companion creature, Link is basically a toddler with a sword. And that’s a crafting recipe for disaster.

This, of course, brings us to today’s topic: The Legend of Zelda: Midna Rules Edition. And, yes, Midna rules. It’s right there in the title! But why is Midna the boss? It’s because Link is a person, and not an anonymous “link”.

CLANGWhen The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (alternate title) begins, Link has a pretty solid life. He’s herding cow creatures, hanging out with swollen headed moppets, and kinda-sorta dating Pony Princess. It’s a phenomenally boring life, but it’s a life, and probably not that far off from even modern countryside living. This all changes with the Realm of Twilight invades, kidnaps a few kiddies, and transforms the surrounding area into a waking nightmare. Link himself is captured, tossed into a dungeon, and transformed into a puppy dog (maybe not in that order). It’s here that he meets Midna, a spritely elf with a penchant for wolf-riding, and the adventure begins in earnest. Together, Midna and Link venture forth to save two kingdoms, and maybe see if Zelda knows how to use that sword (answer: not really).

Oh, also, Midna kinda hates everything.

Midna is the deposed princess of another world. That sucks. She also got transformed into her current “imp” form thanks to a dark curse. That also sucks. And the guy that cursed her and conquered her kingdom? He’s malevolent, power-mad, and crazy-go-nuts bonkers, so it’s hard to make peace with the new administration and “just give him a chance”. In short, Midna doesn’t have a single reason to be happy before the game even begins. By the time she’s forced to work together with a mutt to strike down monkeys and gather shadow pieces, she’s pretty much at her lowest point. She’s cursed, beaten, and is probably going to wind up with a back out of alignment thanks to that silly hat. Just not a good day for Midna.

And she lets Link know about it.

HEHEHEHE

While it’s absolutely true in other Zelda materials, it would be way too reductive to label Midna as simply the “tsundere” archetype. Yes, she’s about three seconds from “it’s not because I like you or anything”, but Midna’s personality does actually evolve over the adventure. Right around the time that Link and Zelda literally save Midna’s life, she seems to noticeably thaw a bit, and her icy exterior gives way to a character that has to shatter dimensions just to keep her feelings in check. Wait, is that tsundere to a T? My bad. Let’s just say that comparing any character this nuanced to a damn anime trope is bad form, and leave it at that. Midna has layers, and it’s not just because she’s attached to a thirty hour adventure.

And it’s Midna’s layers that keep Link alive.

In The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Link initially sets out from Outset Island (oh, I just got that) to rescue his sister. Along the way, he learns of a lost kingdom and magical swords and Bird Person the mailman. By the time Link is kissing the King of Red Lions good-bye, Link’s sister, his own flesh and blood, has been nearly completely forgotten. She’s still there, yes, but she has nothing to do with anything past her hair color, and Link is ready for new, bigger adventures without whatsherface. Can’t quite remember her name… starts with… A?

WaterloggedMidna doesn’t let Link forget about his life. Hey stupid, you’ve got to rescue those kids. Hey stupid, you’ve got to restore Pony Princess’s broken brain meats. Hey stupid, wasn’t there another princess in this story? Do something about that. Hey stupid, I’m not your personal secretary, I’m a damn princess myself, how about you keep saving your stupid kingdom before I turn you into Fido again.

Hey, Link, do what you’re supposed to do.

It’s likely no coincidence that this is the Zelda game with a magical mirror as its main McGuffin, as Midna is the perfect mirror for Link. Midna is selfish when Link is noble. Midna throws a tantrum, and Link stays cool. She is chatty, he is mute. She’s just sitting there, and he is running around on all fours. Midna (appears to be) everything Link isn’t, and that defines Link wholly. Midna is the monster, and Link is the hero.

Link is not a cipher. Link is, as much as any other Nintendo mascot, an established character with clearly defined traits. Link is best demarcated by his opposite number, but, in a pinch, any fairy, sword, or boat will do. Link is the Hero of Hyrule, and we only know it because of his helpers.

Just be careful if you’re going to call Midna a helper…

FGC #244 The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

  • System: I’m always surprised that this game is on so many systems. Technically, it’s on Gamecube (with the original, scarce Gamecube version), Wii (much more popular), and WiiU (via the HD rerelease). I still think of Twilight Princess as a “recent” Zelda title, so it always confuses me to learn it’s already on three different generations of hardware.
  • Number of players: There is only one hero in these two realms.
  • WeeeeeeeMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: There are three reasons I dislike this game. One, during the main quest, it seems like there’s an interruption every five feet, whether it be sumo wrestling, fluzzard flying, or bridge dueling. Second, every “hidden area” seems to have a “come back when you have item X” sign, so exploring before you have dual hookshots doesn’t work out well. And, finally, once you do have everything, the map is so damn big that it takes for-friggen-ever to get anywhere. Lake Hylia is… unruly. All that said, it’s still a Zelda game, so even at its worst, it’s better than like 90% of my library.
  • Favorite Item: I don’t care if it only gets used in one damn dungeon, the Spinner is the bee’s knees. PETA might have issues with this, but I feel like Epona should have been ditched for the second half of the game, and the Spinner should have picked up all of her movement abilities. Spinner-back archery? Yes please.
  • Wii-mote Possibility: The constant shaking of this game isn’t the best thing in the world, but gyroscopic archery did a lot to sell me on the possibility of the Wii. I’m actually curious how the “protect the carriage” bit works out on the Gamecube, because the aiming fun of the wiimote makes that escort mission actually tolerable.
  • D'awwGoggle Bob Fact: I had a very long, in-depth conversation with my (then) girlfriend over the phone while playing through the Sacred Grove/get the Master Sword section of the game. While I can barely remember the actual contents of the conversation, I literally cannot play that area without distinctly recalling my old apartment, my old (garbage) couch, and attempting to juggle the ancient flip phone of the day while shaking the wiimote. Stupid flashbulb memories…
  • Did you know? Midna’s “talking sounds” are actually English voice acting played backwards and distorted. Is this meant to imply that the Twilight Realm was really America all along? You damn, dirty shadow monsters!
  • Would I play again: I’ve been working on the HD rerelease off and on for a little while, but I still haven’t completed it. I kind of cooled on the game when Breath of the Wild seemed imminent. You don’t want to play too much Zelda at once! That said, I know I’ll get back to it eventually.

What’s next? We’re celebrating the Switch launch with the prequel to an anticipated Switch title, Super Bomberman 2. It’s gonna be a blast! Please look forward to it!

Love that song
Midnight release

Xenosaga Episode III Special 4: Beyond Xenosaga

Previously on Xenosaga: Xenosaga is over, folks! There are no more games left, I’ve said everything about the franchise I want to say, and I don’t think we’re going to be seeing Xenosaga HD in time for the Christmas season. It’s done, folks!

But just because a franchise ends, doesn’t mean it’s completely forgotten. Xenosaga has sent its tendrils far past its own release, so we’ll be spending this, the final update for this LP, looking at the games that Xenosaga, in some way, touched.

If you see a game’s title in bold text, fair warning, there are likely to be spoilers.

Now let’s start with the most obvious entry, the immediate sequel to Xenosaga…

Final Fantasy 13 (12/17/09 Japan, 03/09/10 USA) Playstation 3/Xbox 360

Wait… no. That’s… that’s not right…

FGC #243 Dragon’s Lair (NES)

Kind of a tubby dragonThis game is pure, focused malice.

I want to be clear about something here: I am not merely using hyperbole to refer to a “difficult” or “poorly constructed” game. No, what we have here is a NES game that, for reasons that shall shortly become clear, was designed by people that vehemently loathe anyone that happened to support the Nintendo Entertainment System. This game was designed exclusively to make the world a worse place, and it was released solely for the purpose of spite. Dragon’s Lair for the NES is hate.

You probably already know about Dragon’s Lair. DL was an arcade game by animation legend Don Bluth, and was, effectively, a playable cartoon. Considering it was released in 1983, a year when most videogames looked like Bobby Is Going Home, Dragon’s Lair was something of a phenomenon. Yes, it was a “controlled” type game, wherein the goal is basically to play Simon Says effectively enough to keep the game “playing itself”, but it was still fun to watch. And, again, this was the age of the Atari, a time when “videogame” could mean anything from Pong to controlling tanks to a game that tests your ability to press up every thirty seconds. Dragon’s Lair was an early example of graphics trumping gameplay, but it was at a time when “gameplay” could be severely lacking and have horrible graphics, so it gets a pass.

THE REAL MCCOYUnfortunately, Dragon’s Lair didn’t get a pass from technology. Dragon’s Lair ran on laserdisc tech, and, suffice it to say, it would be a long time before anything disc-based infiltrated the home videogame market. So Dragon’s Lair (arcade) begat Space Ace (arcade) the following the year, and then… nothing. Dragon’s Lair didn’t see a sequel until 1991. Just a reminder: Dragon’s Lair (1) was a contemporary of the Atari, and Dragon’s Lair 2 was released a year after Super Mario World. That’s practically an eternity in videogame time, and it was during that eternity that Nintendo conquered the gaming market. When Dragon’s Lair launched, it was the most amazing thing many people had ever seen. Dragon’s Lair 2 was practically a footnote compared to “when’s the next Zelda coming out”.

And before Dragon’s Lair 2, there was Dragon’s Lair for the NES.

Dragon’s Lair NES was released in 1990. Just so we’re all on the same page, the NES was good and established by 1990, and other games released that year include Mega Man 3, Adventures of Lolo 2, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, and Solar Jetman. While there are a few oddballs even in that list, they’re all unmistakably NES games, whether they star waddling blue balls or not. By 1990, the NES kids were all well past trying to figure out this whole crosspad thing, and onto jumping and shooting and maybe pushing blocks like a champ. This was not the Wild West of the Atari age, this was a time of the Nintendo Seal of Quality and only being moderately confused when Little Nemo started wearing a live bee like a suit. It was an age of wonders, but it was also an age where we all knew A meant jump.

In Dragon’s Lair NES, B is the jump button. A attacks. Select is pause, and Start triggers a torch “item”. This is an ominous control scheme.

Also ominous? You’re unlikely to make it past the first screen of Dragon’s Lair NES.

ARGH!To say something nice, Dirk the Daring, the star of Dragon’s Lair, has excellent animation. He probably has one of the most complicated walking animations on the NES, and he really does move like a “real” person. He even turns around! This was a time when some sprites weren’t even expected to look in a different direction (hi, Gradius!), and we’ve got a Dirk walking along in a perfectly smooth bit of animation. Good job, Dragon’s Lair!

Unfortunately, this animation doesn’t come cheap, and that price is Dirk moves about as quickly as dried tar. And, fun fact, that problem doesn’t impact any other creature. Or piece of masonry. Or, Bluth-forbid, sea dragon.

Let’s revisit that first screen. There’s a bat swooping forward, and, like the good bats of Castlevania, he will infinitely respawn. Luckily, he only takes off a bit of your energy. Unfortunately, you’re not so lucky with the crumbling bridge, which inevitably leads to a moat of sudden death. If you attempt to jump the crumbling blocks, good luck, because starting Dirk’s ultra-slow jump means he’ll be in the drink before his crouching animation is complete. And turning around is right out, as he’ll slide off the bridge that way, too. However, if you manage to make it past the crumbly bits, you’ll encounter a sea dragon. Touch the dragon, and you’re dead. Touch the fireballs the dragon spews, and you’re dead. Attempt to hurl a dagger (press A) at the dragon, and you’ll lose that fire fight, and be dead. Hop over the dragon, and you’ll find the front gate of the castle has closed, and touching it means instant death. So, what you must do is walk aaaall the way back across the decaying bridge, hide in the corner, and hurl an ungainly number of daggers at the dragon until it finally dies. Also, just for funsies, if you duck to avoid fireballs, the dragon will duck too, and he’s completely out of range during that time. Assuming you survive this gauntlet until the dragon is defeated, you can then attempt to pass the bridge and the bat again, and, finally, make it to the next screen.

DammitOh, and side note? There are no continues in this game, so every time you lose your daily allotment of five lives, you have to do that entire sequence all over again.

And you will lose those lives quickly once you’re in the castle. That bat (which, don’t worry, will appear again and again) is apparently one of the few threats in the castle that will only take off a chunk of life as opposed to, ya know, instant death. Pits? Instant death. Snakes? Instant death. Moving walls? Instant death. Floating skulls? Sometimes lost health, sometimes instant death, with no overt distinction on why. Bosses? You better believe those lead to instant death. And even beyond that, you’ve got Dirk’s anemic jump, and moving platforms that aren’t consistent at all. Some platforms have their own “gravity”, and will ferry Dirk over pits. Other moving platforms move on their own terms, and Dirk has to walk across them to avoid pits below. And you won’t know which platform is which until you’re inevitably a pile of bones at the bottom of the nearest chasm. Oh, I’m sorry, was that your last life? Back to the moat, loser!

And that’s not all, folks! There are a number of subtle bits of malice in this adventure. The main “hub” of the game is an elevator (that will likely get you killed), and if you accidently enter an area you already completed (which, incidentally, aren’t marked at all), you have to repeat the level all over again. You may collect gold to increase your (useless) score, but if you stay still for longer than about a second (which is kind of inevitable with all these instant death traps whirling around), the Lizard King will appear and steal your gold and some health, just for funsies. And, at the (inevitable) end of your game, there’s a high score table that I swear is completely impossible to top. Seriously, you’d have to replay all the levels in this game about ten times to clear the highest score.

DAMMIT!Put all of this together, and it seems pretty clear that the game is actively taunting the player. You will never beat the first screen. You will never see the ending. You will never get the high score. Why are you even playing this game, you foolish Nintendo kid?

And I can’t help but imagine that that is deliberate.

The Nintendo Entertainment System, with its cutesy 8-bit graphics and simple play styles, conquered the home console market for what seemed like forever. There was no place for the big budget, fully animated likes of Dragon’s Lair on the NES, and, honestly, nobody really cared. Contra was fun. Castlevania was fun. Mega Man was fun. Dirk the Daring was a legend in his time, but he was a flash in the pan compared to the turtle-stomper in overalls. The laserdisc fell by the wayside, and the cartridge conquered the land. It must have been… discouraging to be the curator of yesterday’s news, and then be expected to port that masterpiece to the system that vanquished your hero. What was left to do but punish the children that dug Dirk’s grave?

Dragon’s Lair NES is malevolence in cartridge form. It is revenge given plastic. And it’s also kind of a crappy game, so, ya know, try to avoid it.

FGC #243 Dragon’s Lair (NES)

  • System: NES. It doesn’t even have the excuse of being on other systems to explain the wonky controls.
  • Number of players: Technically, it is two player alternating. But, like a two man con, if two people play this game, the odds of someone realizing “hey, this is terrible” immediately shoots up to nearly 100%.
  • Port-o-Call: Turns out the Japanese/European version of the game increased Dirk’s movement speeds to much more survivable levels. Unfortunately, they also added falling boulders to the elevator area, so I’m sticking to my “this game is hate” assessment.
  • So, did you beat it: Yes, with a healthy amount of modern cheating. For the record, your only “reward” is a single “congratulations” screen.

    WINNER!

    Daphne barely appears. Boo.

  • Favorite boss: Death, aka the Grim Reaper, is straight up the boss of a stage. I’m wondering if he just likes hanging around spooky castles. Not like he has anything better to do.
  • Did you know? You can actually reclaim your treasures from the Lizard King in a secret area at the bottom of the elevator. Considering the treasure does nothing but boost your score, and the odds of dying in practically any level in this game are infinitely high, I’m going to go ahead and say it’s not worth it.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. Even with save states, this game is nearly impossible, and I only completed it to see if there was any level of satisfaction in doing so. Spoilers: nope.

What’s next? Random ROB… isn’t being so random next week. In honor of the release of the Switch, I’ll be covering three games that are at least tangentially related to the launch of Nintendo’s latest system. So first up is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Zelda time is here again! Please look forward to it!

Grandpa, that's just Maggie